Wanted penguin briefly sighted

Hi all!

Not all of you know me, and some may be agnostic with regard to my existence, alizziest even, but I do exist and I’m so sorry I’ve been an absentee landlord for so long!  Life got impossibly difficult, and I’ve been barely keeping my head above water for quite a while!

However, light is definitely visible at the end of the tunnel, and I have good (belated) news which his that Vincent Torley and DNA_jock have kindly agreed to join the admin team at TSZ.  Thanks so much, Vincent and DNA_jock!

And I do hope to join them as a no-longer-sleeping partner before the year is out at least!  Semi-retirement from my full-time job should commence on 1st November, at which point I hope to get my life back!

Intention, Intelligence and Teleology

On the left is a photograph of a real snowflake.  Most people would agree that it was not created intentionally, except possibly in the rather esoteric sense of being the foreseen result of the properties of water atoms in an intentionally designed universe in which water atoms were designed to have those properties.  But I think most people here, ID proponents and ID critics alike, would consider that the “design” (in the sense of “pattern”) of this snowflake is neither random nor teleological.  Nor, however, is it predictable in detail.  Famously “no two snowflakes are alike”, yet all snowflakes have six-fold rotational symmetry.  They are, to put it another way, the products of both “law” (the natural law that governs the crystalisation of water molecules) and “chance” (stochastic variation in humidity and temperature that affect the rate of growth of each arm of the crystal as it grows). We need not, to continue in Dembski’s “Explanatory Filter” framework, infer “Design”.

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I have closed comments on two recent threads, The War Against Barry A. by Mung, and Barry Arrington’s Bullying, by stcordova.

I am more than happy for people to discuss here views expressed in OP’s at Uncommon Descent, not least because one of the functions this site serves is a place in which people can continue conversations started at UD, or discuss issues raised at UD, if they are banned at UD.  However, I do not want it to dominated by discussions of the rights and wrongs of UD moderation policy.  UD is Barry’s site and he is entitled to select who posts and what is posted there.  We have a different set of policies here, and so a different style of discussion.


Three powerful commentaries on the nature of our existence:

The first is a BBC programme called The Secret Life of Waves.  My father, who died earlier this year, was very keen that we should all watch it, and it helped us hugely after his death, to know that this was what he thought, and wanted to share with his children and grandchildren.

The second is a lecture someone introduced me to recently by Alan Watts, It Starts Now.

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Are we in a war?

Barry Arrington, owner of the pro-ID blog, Uncommon Descent is alleged to have written the following in an email to a contributor:

We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly. In the summer of 2015 we find ourselves in a positon very similar to Great Britain’s position 75 years ago in the summer of 1940 – alone, demoralized, and besieged on all sides by a great darkness that constitutes an existential threat to freedom, justice and even rationality itself.


In this thread I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the email itself, nor of whether or not TSZ constitutes a “great darkness”.  Barry is entitled to decide who posts at UD and who does not; it’s his blog.

What interests me is the perception itself, which I suspect is quite widely shared.

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Rule edits

I made some minor edits to the rule page. The “Address the post not the poster” rule now reads:

Address the content of the post, not the perceived failings of the poster. [purple text added 28th November 2015]

  • This means that accusing others of ignorance or stupidity is off topic
  • As is implying that other posters are mentally ill or demented.

And for guidance I also added text from an excellent post by Reciprocating Bill:

Participation at this site entails obligations similar to those that attend playing a game. While there is no objective moral obligation to answer questions, the site has aims, rules and informal stakeholders, just as football has same. When violations of those aims and rules are perceived and/or the enforcement of same is seen as arbitrary or inconsistent, differences and conflicts arise. No resort to objective morality, yet perfectly comprehensible and appropriate opprobrium.


Answer to Barry Part 1 (and, inadvertently, 2)

Barry seems to have noticed TSZ again, and so I will take this opportunity of inviting him over here, where he can post freely, and will not be banned unless he posts porn or malware or outs someone, which I expect he can manage not to do.

And he responds to my post, Lawyers and Scientists.  He does so in two parts, so I will devote two posts to them.  Here is my response to his first part.  Barry writes:

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Barry finally gets it?

Barry Arrington was astonished to find that Larry Moran agreed with him that it would be possible for some future biologist to detect design in a Venter-designed genome.

He was further astonished to find that REC, a commenter at UD, agreed with Larry Moran.

Barry expresses his epiphany in a UD post REC Becomes a Design Proponent.

Has Barry finally realised that those of us who oppose the ideas of Intelligent Design proponents do not dispute that it is possible, in principle, to make a reasonable inference of design?  That rather our opposition is based on the evidence and argument advanced, not on some principled (or unprincipled!) objection to the entire project?

Sadly, it seems not.  Because Barry then gives some examples of his continued lack of appreciation of this point.  Here they are:

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More statistical confusion…

At UD I noticed, while I was checking the Moran-Arrington score, I couldn’t help noticing a news item entitled, provocatively (for me) Psychology does not speak the language of statistics very well.

So being a psychologist who teaches statistical methods to psychology students, I had to click, and found that it was a report of a blog piece here called Statistics Shows Psychology Is Not Science

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Lawyers and Scientists

There’s been a skirmish between Larry Moran and Barry Arrington about whether Barry understands the Theory of Evolution, and the latest salvo is a piece at UD, entitled, Can a Lowly Lawyer Make a Useful Contribution? Maybe.

Well, in a sense, Barry makes a useful contribution in that post, as he gives a very nice illustration of a common misunderstanding about the process of hypothesis testing, in this case, basic model-fitting and null hypothesis testing, the workhorse (with all its faults) of scientific research.  Barry writes:

[Philip]Johnson is saying that attorneys are trained to detect baloney.  And that training is very helpful in the evolution debate, because that debate is chock-full of faulty logic (especially circular reasoning), abuse of language (especially equivocations), assumptions masquerading as facts, unexamined premises, etc. etc.

Consider, to take one example of many, cladistics.  It does not take a genius to know that cladistic techniques do not establish common descent; rather they assume it.  But I bet if one asked, 9 out of 10 materialist evolutionists, even the trained scientists among them, would tell you that cladistics is powerful evidence for common descent.  As Johnson argues, a lawyer’s training may help him understand when faulty arguments are being made, sometimes even better than those with a far superior grasp of the technical aspects of the field.  This is not to say that common descent is necessarily false; only cladistics does not establish the matter one way or the other.

In summary, I am trained to evaluate arguments by stripping them down to examine the meaning of the terms used, exposing the underlying assumptions, and following the logic (or, as is often the case, exposing the lack of logic).  And I think I do a pretty fair job of that, both in my legal practice and here at UD.

Barry has made two common errors here.  First he has confused the assumption of common descent with the conclusion of common descent, and thus detected circular reasoning where there is none.  Secondly he has confused the process of fitting a model with the broader concept of a hypothesised model.

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and always = A and only a  TSZ “nihilist” .would deny it, says Barry Arrington.

A=A is infallibly, necessarily true

What does this claim even mean?  That something denoted by A is identical to something else also denoted by A?  Clearly not.

That if we devise a system of logic in which we declare that A always equals A , A must always equal A?  Well, duh.

That the only possible logic system is one in which A is always equal to A?  Well, no – fuzzy logic is a very useful logic system, and A is sometimes only approximately equal to A, or may equal A if it passes some threshold of probability of being A.

So what does he even mean?  Is his claim even coherent?

Baby or Vat?

Zachriel asks, at UD:

Here’s a simple thought-experiment. There’s a fire at an fertility clinic, and there is precious little time before the entire building is engulfed in flames. Down one hallway, there’s the soft purring sound of an incubator with a thousand frozen embryos; down the other hallway, the cries of a newborn baby. Which do you choose to save?

Usually, people answer “the baby” and the interesting debate then concerns why.

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Evolving complex features

The Lenski et al 2003 paper, The evolutionary origin of complex features, is really worth reading.  Here’s the abstract:

A long-standing challenge to evolutionary theory has been whether it can explain the origin of complex organismal features. We examined this issue using digital organisms—computer programs that self-replicate, mutate, compete and evolve. Populations of digital organisms often evolved the ability to perform complex logic functions requiring the coordinated execution of many genomic instructions. Complex functions evolved by building on simpler functions that had evolved earlier, provided that these were also selectively favoured. However, no particular intermediate stage was essential for evolving complex functions. The first genotypes able to perform complex functions differed from their non-performing parents by only one or two mutations, but differed from the ancestor by many mutations that were also crucial to the new functions. In some cases, mutations that were deleterious when they appeared served as stepping-stones in the evolution of complex features. These findings show how complex functions can originate by random mutation and natural selection.

The thing about a computer instantiation of evolution like AVIDA is that you can check back every lineage and examine the fitness of all precursors.  Not only that, but you can choose your own environment, and how much selecting it does.  There are some really key findings:

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Natural Selection and Adaptation

Cornelius Hunter seems very confused.

 …This brings us back to the UC Berkeley “Understanding Evolution” website. It abuses science in its utterly unfounded claim that “natural selection can produce amazing adaptations.”

In fact natural selection, even at its best, does not “produce” anything. Natural selection does not and cannot influence the construction of any adaptations, amazing or not. If a mutation occurs which improves differential reproduction, then it propagates into future generations. Natural selection is simply the name given to that process. It selects for survival that which already exists. Natural selection has no role in the mutation event. It does not induce mutations, helpful or otherwise, to occur. According to evolutionary theory every single mutation, leading to every single species, is a random event with respect to need.

He has forgotten what “adaptation” means.  Of course he is correct that “Natural selection is simply the name given to [differential reproduction]”.  And that (as far as we know), “every single mutation …is a random event with respect to need”.

And “adaptation” is the name we give to variants that are preferentially reproduced. So while he would be correct to say that “natural selection” is NOT the name we give to “mutation” (duh); it IS the name we give to the very process that SELECTS those mutations that promote reproduction.  i.e. the process that produces adaptation.

Cornelius should spend more time at the Understanding Evolution website.

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ID and AGW

Can someone familiar with the thinking at Uncommon Descent explain why there is such opposition to the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming?  There’s this today, following several long commentaries by VJ Torley on the pope’s encyclical, mostly negative. I don’t get the connection. Is it general distrust of science? Or of the “Academy”?  Or is there something about the idea that we may be provoking a major extinction event that is antithetical to ID?  Or is it, possibly, that the evidence for major extinction events in the past is explains the various “explosions” that are adduced as evidence, if not for ID, then against “Darwinism”?

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